Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Elsewhere" by Richard Russo

Elsewhere by Richard Russo is an interesting memoir from the writer of notable works of fiction like Straight Man (which I read and enjoyed) and the Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls.

It's a different book than I expected in that while it's Russo's life story, really it's more about he as an only child and his mother as a single mom. What's remarkable in the book was the depths of care that Russo put into helping his mom starting out when she travelled cross-country with him to college and then through the following decades as Russo would have her living nearby. Additionally, a fascinating detail that comes out late in the book was Russo realizing through his daughter's diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder that his same disease may very well have afflicted his mom throughout her life.

In terms of being a story about growing up and relationship with parents, the book made me think about two other memoirs of the same ilk, The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan and 'Tis by Frank McCourt. Of the two, I enjoyed the Grogan book much more and comparing 'Tis to Elsewhere for me shows a pretty negative depiction of McCourt as a son to his aging mother. Actually, McCourt didn't seem a great son to his mother regardless of who compared against, but especially against someone like Russo who gave of himself so much for so many years. Russo doesn't necessarily portray himself as a perfect son, but he simply seemed to follow the maxim that you don't turn your back on someone, even if it would be the much easier thing to do. 

Additionally of interest from Elsewhere and playing a major role in the book's narrative was Russo's hometown of Gloversville, NY. It's fascinating to read of a factory town and what happens there as the factory slows down and then goes away (while actually causing physical harm to the people it did employ back in the day).

Elsewhere might not hold the attention of some with it simply being about a guy and his mother, but it was an interesting read... and reviewed many other places, including for the Washington Post by Marie Arena.